The zebra plant, which typically grows indoors, is loved for its unique dark green leaves striped with white veins. The jewel of this plant is its colorful flowers. When in bloom (which usually happens in late summer or early autumn) a zebra plant bears tall golden bracts that can reach several inches long and number between two to four per plant, lasting up to six weeks. The indoor zebra plant is a slow-growing plant, reaching maturity of a couple of feet tall in three years.
|Common Name||Zebra plant|
|Botanical Name||Aphelandra squarrosa|
|Mature Size||1–2 ft. tall (indoors), 4–6 ft. tall (outdoors), 1–5 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Indirect, partial|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Late summer, early fall|
|Hardiness Zones||11, 12 (USDA)|
Watch Now: How to Grow a Zebra Plant Indoors
Zebra Plant Care
Native to Brazil, the zebra plant is a beautiful—but temperamental—plant. If you're up for the challenge of nurturing this tough plant, begin by choosing a spot for it that boasts a slightly higher humidity level (60 to 70 percent) and a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the plant in bright, filtered light (but not direct sunlight) and its soil consistently moist. Accentuate its graphic striped leaves with an equally bold pot and keep an eye out for its signature yellow bract, which will bloom in late summer or early fall. Once the plant has flowered and the bracts appear to be dying, prune your plant, taking care to remove the spent bract and any surrounding leaves or stems that appear wilted.
Zebra plants thrive in indirect light or partial shade, as they're used to growing under a canopy of trees in warm and humid climates. Direct sunlight can cause the leaves to scorch and should be avoided, but complete shade can mean that your plant won't bloom.
A zebra plant will grow best in soil that is neutral to acidic. A multi-purpose potting blend is adequate for a zebra plant—you can also incorporate sand into the mixture to ensure that it drains well. If a flowering plant is your goal, feed using fertilizer every one to two weeks during its growing season (spring and summer).
As mentioned, zebra plants prefer consistently moist soil, which may take a bit of finesse, as overwatering can cause the leaves to wilt. It's recommended that you water your zebra plant to saturation every few weeks (or as you observe the soil drying out), allowing the water to completely penetrate the soil until it runs out of your container's drainage holes. Your water temperature should be slightly lukewarm so it mimics the variables of a drenching rainstorm in warmer climates, but only water under the leaves, never from above.
Temperature and Humidity
Because of their origins, zebra plants grow best in moderate temperatures—their grow location should reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and never dip below 55 degrees.
Humidity is also important to the zebra plant, so its space should be kept at 60 to 70 percent humidity. If these conditions cannot be achieved naturally indoors, you can increase moisture levels by using a humidifier. Overall, strive to maintain an even temperature for your plant. Avoid high fluctuations in either direction and keep it away from any vents that could make it too hot or too cold (such as a radiator or air conditioner).
The use of fertilizer can greatly benefit the zebra plant's growth, especially when it comes to its ability to flower. During its peak growth season (typically spring and early summer), the zebra plant should be fed every one to two weeks using a fertilizer that is well-suited to both foliage and flowers.
Propagating a Zebra Plant
Propagate a zebra plant in the spring by using stem cuttings from your original plant.
- Using a sharp, disinfected cutting tool, cut 2- to 3-inch-long sections of stems from side shoots of the plant.
- Dust the cut ends in a rooting hormone to increase your chances of successful propagation.
- Insert the stem ends into a pot filled with moist soil and place the container on top of a heating mat if your room does not naturally maintain a temperature of around 70 degrees.
- The stems will also need lots of humidity to grow strong roots successfully, so it may be helpful to increase the moisture level by growing in a covered terrarium or placing plastic wrap over the top of your pot.
Root growth can take around a month. Keep an eye out for new leaves on the surface of the plant because that indicates growth below the soil line, too. Propagated zebra plants should be repotted once the plant grows roots.
Potting and Repotting Zebra Plant
Beyond repotting propagated shoots, zebra plants do not need to be repotted often, benefitting from a new home only every two to three years. If you notice the soil has gotten lower, simply remove the top inch or two of soil and top with a fresh mix, which will give the plant an added dose of nutrients.
Though this is an unusual plant, the zebra plant still attracts common bugs, such as aphids, mealybugs, mites, scale, and thrips. Pests can be eliminated with insecticidal soap or by specific remedies recommended for each insect.
How to Get Zebra Plant to Bloom
This houseplant is very finicky about blooming and getting a zebra plant to bloom twice in a season and then the next summer season is tricky at best. Here are a few tricks:
- If it's summer and your plant's bloom is fading after its six weeks of glory, cut the bract back to encourage it to flower again in the fall.
- Care for the plant during the winter by placing the pot in a cooler location, but bring it right back to a warmer spot once spring arrives.
- In the spring, place the plant in a spot where there's very intense, bright, but indirect sunlight. The intensity of the light will encourage blooming.
Common Problems With Zebra Plant
With such a beautiful, but sensitive plant, there's bound to be some issues when it comes to the leaves. Keep an eye on the leaves so you can give this plant the love and care it needs to be saved.
Plant Leaves Falling Off
If leaves drop off the plant, it is probably due to an overwatering or underwatering problem. The tips of leaves on the lower part of the tree will begin to wilt when this is the problem. If the watering issue is not fixed, the leaves will fall off. However, it can also be a problem because the air is too dry around the plant and it needs more humidity.
If the leaves are curling or crinkling, the plant is likely getting too much bright sun or it feels overheated. Though it likes light, it may be a bit too intense or hot. Move the plant to an area with light, but not as direct or strong so it can cool down a tad.
Browning leaf tips usually happen for one of two reasons: too much light or fertilizer. Just either move the plant to an area with less direct light and cut back on fertilizing.
Is a zebra plant easy to care for?
Like many warmth-loving plants, the zebra plant can be a challenge to grow indoors, especially in temperate areas. It requires a lot of moisture, warmth, and food to thrive, and indoor conditions are not always naturally conducive to the plant.
How fast does a zebra plant grow?
It's a very slow-growing plant, reaching its full height of just a couple of feet in three years. You'll rarely need to repot your plant.
How long can a zebra plant live?
With the right care and attention, a zebra houseplant can potentially live for up to a decade.
What's the difference between Aphelandra squarrosa and Calathea zebrina?
Both plants go by the common name of zebra plant, yet these two plants aren't related. The main difference is that the Calathea zebrina has lighter-colored leaves and it doesn't flower like the Aphelandrosa squarrosa.